Political Trends and Security Implications

The following is the summary of a session that was part of the 2018 Annual Conference.



  • Moderator: Peter Landers, Tokyo Bureau Chief, The Wall Street Journal
  • Yoichi Funabashi, Co-founder and Chairman, Asia Pacific Initiative; Former Editor-in-Chief, The Asahi Shimbun (2007-10)
  • Takako Hikotani, Ph.D., Gerald L. Curtis Associate Professor of Modern Japanese Politics and Foreign Policy, Columbia University)


Mr. Landers began by speaking about the midterm elections in the U.S. The poll question of this session asked if the U.S.-Japan relations will change following the midterm elections.

Mr. Landers asked if Japan’s strategy will succeed in the second half of President Trump’s term. Dr. Hikotani answered that President Trump is realizing that he cannot be complacent. President Trump said a lot of unfavorable things about Japan during his election campaign, such as that Japan was free-riding security. Dr. Hikotani explained that she thinks Prime Minister Abe will continue his calm approach and strategy. One characteristic of Prime Minister Abe is that he does not suffer as much backlash as President Trump.

Dr. Funabashi responded that over the next two years, the Abe administration will be confronted with challenges. If President Trump will demand export control of vehicles, that will strain the relationship. President Trump’s view of the world is different from the traditional worldview.

Mr. Landers asked if, from Japan’s perspective, China can somehow replace the United States. Dr. Funabashi replied that he does not think that will ever happen because China will never align with Japan. The China-Japan relationship was at a very low point in 2010 when a Chinese fishing ship rammed a Japanese Self-Defense Force ship, causing the arrest of the Chinese captain by the Japanese. China then weaponized their economy to punish Japan for the arrest.

Mr. Landers said that Japan’s Self-Defense Force currently has autonomy, but that Prime Minister Abe talks about turning it into a military. Mr. Landers asked the panelists what they think of this effort to protect Japan better. Dr. Hikotani replied that the most important thing now is to make sure that the United States is committed to the region. However, Japan does need to consider their self-defense, especially with North Korea. Mr. Landers asked if there are any other threats. Dr. Hikotani answered that the East China Sea is a concern. Given budget constraints, Japan is dependent on China’s strategy going forward. Dr. Funabashi also said that it is imperative for Japan and China to have a stable relationship. However, North Korea remains the most critical national security risk to Japan, because they have not committed to denuclearization. He also said that Japan has to keep strengthening its alliance with the United States, and if necessary, change the interpretation of the constitution in order to defend the U.S.

Referring to Vice President Mike Pence’s recent speech about China, Mr. Landers asked if the United States and China could ever find common ground. Dr. Funabashi replied that he thinks that would be difficult. China is seen as being ahead of the United States in terms of technology, estimated in the range of 10 to 15 times, and this poses serious risks to the world because China is radically modernizing. As an example, Dr. Funabashi explained that China is using a system to survey and score its citizens, and that by 2020, it will become mandatory.


Click here to see the video of the session.